The craziest soccer match ever played

It’s been a quiet week for Copenhagen Game Collective. The whole gang has been away at Roskilde Festival – everyone but me and Bernie, that is.

To fill the time, we’ve been watching the World Cup. Yes, this year’s tournament has been full of drama. But even this World Cup can’t compare to this insane story, about a 1994 match between Barbados and Grenada. Some footage here:

There’s a lesson here for game designers: a game system might sound good on paper, but remember to carefully think through what kind of nutty game theoretical incentives might emerge from it.

The World Cup, of course, learned this the hard way from the infamous 1982 West Germany v Austria match, in which the two teams colluded to let Germany win. After this incident, the tournament was changed so that the final pair of matches within each group are now played simultaneously.

More recently, at Euro 2004, Denmark and Sweden were accused of intentionally tying in order to ensure that both Scandinavian teams would advance, at the expense of Italy. This scenario is sometimes used to justify why FIFA, unlike UEFA, prioritizes “goal difference” over “head-to-head play” in its tie break criteria. But as the Wikipedia page on match fixing cogently argues, there’s no one perfectly satisfactory solution to these issues. These are problems that no technology, e.g. instant replay, can “solve.”

My adviser, TL Taylor, gave an excellent paper at DiGRA 2009 on this same topic, as it relates to e-sports. She argues that even through the computer game “handles” the rules through code, there will always be objections to and negotiations around the way the participants play. “Technology” is not a panacea.

An interesting example from this year’s World Cup is Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and his intentional handball against Ghana. Ghana went on to miss the penalty kick, and ended up losing the game. Call Suarez a cheater if you want, but his infraction was completely rational. He quite literally won the game for his team. Still, the handball feels especially cheap because it robbed Africa of its first-ever berth into the World Cup semifinals.

I’ve heard one good suggestion for a rule change: some commentators argue that this kind of clearly intentional handball should result in an automatic goal, rather than a PK. There is certainly precedent behind this suggestion, e.g. goal-tending in professional basketball leads to an automatic basket. But how does one define “clearly intentional”? The suggestion is a good one, but it certainly doesn’t “fix” the problem entirely.

Again: there is no such thing as a perfect rule-set or system. The job of a game designer is tough!

Update: Check out this New York Times article about Suarez’ handball. Apparently, Suarez is now boasting that he has the “Hand of God,” not Maradona. The nerve!

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